Norwegian police in small towns as well as the country’s cities will be armed, many for the first time, when Norway celebrates its Constitution Day on the 17th of May. Researchers are unsure whether Norwegians will feel safer or be offended by the sight of guns, even in discreet holsters.
“I think it’s fine,” one young woman in Bergen told state broadcaster NRK when it recently conducted random interviews on the street about arming police on the 17th of May. She wasn’t bothered by the sight of armed police, which still don’t regularly carry weapons in Norway unless they have special permission from the justice ministry.
Researcher Gunnar Thomassen, an assistant professor at the state police academy in Oslo (Politihøgskolen), told newspaper Dagsavisen on Monday that he was uncertain Norwegians will feel safer with armed police amidst all the festively clad celebrants on the streets. “We already score high on feelings of safety in Norway,” he said “while some might think that having our police bear arms is ‘a bit over the top.'”
Thomassen doesn’t think, though, that Norwegians become anxious any longer by the sight of armed police. “We’ve gotten more used to it,” he said. “It’s not certain folks will even notice the police have guns.”
Mandatory in cities, optional elsewhere
The state police directorate, backed by the justice ministry, declared two weeks ago that police in Norway’s cities will carry weapons when on patrol around large 17th of May celebrations, especially the traditional parades featuring school children. In smaller communities, it will be up to the local police chiefs to decide whether their officers should be armed.
Benedicte Bjørnland, the former head of the state police intelligence agency PST who now heads the entire state police directorate, stressed that police on the streets must be ready to react immediately to any attacks during national day celebrations. Only Oslo police carried guns last year, but now she’s extended the arming nationwide.
Most taking up arms
Dagsavisen reported that Norway’s large Inland Police District has decided to arm officers on duty along parade routes, and the same is now also true in the counties of Agder and Møre og Romsdal, report local newspapers Agdersposten and Sunnmørsposten. Police from Finnmark and Lofoten in the north to Sarpsborg, Arendal and Rakkestad in the south will also carry guns. So will officers in the mountain community of Voss. The decisions to arm come in response to PST’s most recent threat evaluation, which Bjørnland delivered before leaving PST, even though it focused on China and Russia as posing the biggest threats. Concerns have risen, though, because of terrorist attacks carried out around Europe and various stabbing attacks in Norway as well.
PST hasn’t issued any warnings about any concrete warnings tied to the 17th of May festivies on Friday’s national holiday. Petter Eide, a Member of the Parliament for the Socialist Left party (SV), is generally opposed to arming police in Norway but said he supports the police evaluations. “If police in Alta, Otta or other places think they have indications that make it necessary to arm themselves on the 17th of May, we must rely on them,” Eide told Dagsavisen.
All arming is expected to be typically discreet, with most officers on duty also wearing their dress uniforms on what ranks as Norway’s major national holiday of the year.